Since Riccardo Muti left La Scala and Claudio Abbado has made his activities as an opera conductor rarer, some might be asking themselves who would carry on the Mozartian tradition in Italy. Although Gustavo Dudamel comes rather from Venezuela than from Venice, it seems he has fallen into Abbado’s protection. Thus, this Don Giovanni might be a kind of test of fire to see if the young South-American conductor is able to fill in the shoes of his famous predecessors. In fact, La Scala’s Don Giovanni could not answer the question. It seems Dudamel has a strong sense of theatre and galvanizes his orchestra to enthusiastic music-making, but in the end I got the impression he was only trying really hard not to have a definable approach and to overgesticulate to the last seat in the theatre. If one asks me if Dudamel’s Don Giovanni was fast or slow, I wouldn’t be able to tell. For example: he responds to situations in a way that has more to do with making it loud and louder. I can say, however, what I did not hear: clear articulation. Rapid string passages sounded imprecise and muffled, and clarity was not this performance’s strongest asset. I have to say I really missed Muti’s masterstroke – and if the orchestra keeps to this subpar standard the Milanese will eventually join me.
When it comes to the cast, however, the afternoon reserved good surprises. Anna Samuil does have the metallic voice one would expect from a high soprano from Russia, but that’s all I could not be enthusiastic about in her performanc. She has a sizable, homogeneous and flexible voice that can sound sweet when this is necessary. She knows the kind of sound Mozart demands from her, has clear diction and some temperament. Her Or sai chi l’onore was phrased with elegance and accuracy after a vivid recitative. Non mi dir lacked nothing – long breath, pianissimi, trills and clearly articulated divisions a tempo. Morover, her melisme in the second act sextett crowned the ensemble in a way rarely available in recordings. She is a young singer and still has to mature; her potential, however, is beyond doubt. Annette Dasch was a light creamy-toned Elvira. Truth be said, the part is a bit heavy for her voice and she would now and then sound opaque. Fortunately, Mi tradì happened to be her best moment, even if she was operating really close to her limits. Sylvia Schwartz’s capable Zerlina was only hampered by a kind of Judith-Raskin-like old-school vocal production. It must be said that these three singers were quite good-looking and more willing to act than one would generally expect. When it comes to the men, the results are less impressive: Jeremy Ovenden has a nasal unappealing sound and, for a tenor who sings Handel, his runs in Il mio tesoro could be smoother. Alex Esposito’s Leporello had all the necessary elements to build a congenial performance (and he is a very good actor) but a substantial voice. His baritone sounded quite small-scaled, especially in La Scala’s dry acoustics. Ernesto Panariello has a really forceful voice, but not the depth and darkness a Commendatore should have. When it comes to the title role, there was indeed an outstanding performance from Erwin Schrott. He just has it all – the voice, the attitude, the style and even the looks. His command of Italian declamation is masterly – and he made one interesting intepretative point after the other from beginning to end.
Peter Mussbach’s production for the Lindenoper is very elegant in its revolving walls and blue lighting and, when there is a cast skilled as this one, concentrating on acting is always a good idea. However, when one has actors performing in such a naturalistic manner, the odd implausible directorial choice stands out: why Don Ottavio asks servants to fetch Donna Anna’s salts and carry away the body, when there is no one there? Why Donna Anna asks where the corpse is when she wakes from her faint she is right in front of it? Why Donna Elvira reads Don Giovanni’s victims’ names from a wall when the audience sees there is nothing written there? There must be a concept behind all that but in the end it all looks like sloppy work.